“It’s not failure, it’s data.”

Perfectionism prevents progress, how to stop thinking and start doing

There’s a binary function at the core of perfectionism. The 1’s and 0’s of unrealistic expectations, the difference between striving for excellence verses never finishing and being unsatisfied with all accomplishments. Even forgoing starting because of a fear that reality won’t measure up. Many perfectionists are good at thinking about things. Thinking, and thinking, and thinking… and yet not doing the thing. These are all symptoms of the debilitating grasp of perfectionism.

This is a great summary of the perfectionist narrative that we tell ourselves when we see “spontaneous success” in others in similar careers:

But what happens when we view our experiences differently? For example, I won’t fail, I’ll get to learn and grow . Our data becomes information of personal experiences, the opportunity for refinement, a gold thread that can be reframed into powerful insights.

On a personal note, while learning about overcoming perfectionism I was triggered from all angles. The timing was uncanny. Days prior I had been ready to launch something that frighteningly exciting, and my business partner pulled out. I was the jilted bride with all my careful plans laid to waste, and I immediately began to unpick it all with self reflection. However this failure had happened for understandable reasons, ones that had nothing at all to do with me. I had to pause. Look at my data. Practise self compassion. Make a new plan.

Since then I’ve been using these five themes to begin to unstick my perfectionist habits:

  1. Separate self worth from achievements
    Accepting that I’m pretty spectacular is a good step, because what I do next becomes a bonus. I don’t need to be measured by a perceived success level when I’m striving for lofty goals, rather celebrate that I’ve attempted each challenge. A tool that can help is a Ta Dah list, a list of successes that replaces the focus on a never finished To Do list.
  2. Comparison is not data
    My Sliding Door’s life is infinite. I could have been many different people by now. I may have chosen another route, met a different person to give me a chance, tried another way through a problem. Ad infinitum. So why compare myself to others? I have my own choices, and there’s no point to clouding my data by comparing myself to others.
  3. Choice removes “should”
    My narrative tends towards a lack of choice, “I must …” or “I should make sure that…”. Language is a powerful force for change, so I’m embracing “I could see if…”. I believe it will be interesting to read Drop the Ball with this mindset, so I might read it shortly (see? using language that allows me permission to keep choosing).
  4. Body impacts mind
    My body language can chemically alter my brain chemistry, and watching Amy Cuddy’s TED talk is a stark reminder that by embracing the physical stances of power I can ‘fake’ the strength need to act and challenge myself. Fighting imposter syndrome with these subtle changes moves me from impersonating self belief, to authentic assurance
  5. Experimentation is purposely endless
    By giving myself a goal of a journey, not a goal of a completion, I’ve changed the focus of my perfectionist tendencies. I don’t need to be the best, because I’m learning, I don’t need to reach the end, because the process if the goal. By creating a frame on experiences with integrity
    There is wonder to be found in my possibilities, they are not a means to an end, they are the endless path.


My Bravest Year
Getting over perfectionism and putting it all on the line at 39

Digital Community Director | Senior Strategist, Content & Social specialist. Opinionated. Inspired by creative culture; travel, film, literature & photography

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